Ken’s Blog

Jason Calacanis, founder of Weblogs, Inc. which he sold to AOL for $25,000,000, said the following at the Dec/2006 Search Engine Strategies conference in Chicago…

"SEO is bullshit, if you generate a web page with good content Google will rank the page properly."

Now, a simplistic generalization (such as the one above) is meant to make a point, not win a debate. It is, of course, a great way to start a debate and win tons of publicity, especially if you make it at a conference full of SEOers! And so…

Predictably, he was slammed by SEOers who promptly left-brained their way deeply into debate on details. Or they slammed him with personal insults. Or both. SEOers tend to miss the forest for the trees.

Mr. Calacanis’s point was merely that Search Engines are getting better at recognizing which pages best meet what a searcher seeks. More and more, "best" means highest quality content.

Nowadays, SEO services such as site architecture, relevance, links, etc. merely form the "ante" to get into the game, to be considered as a "candidate" for any particular search. And that is what SEOers provide. Such a service is of value, but it’s hardly "optimization"… not anymore.

What’s a service like that worth? Well, I guess it could be argued that any service (ex., hitting home runs for the New York Yankees) is worth whatever the buyer is willing to pay. But what if you look at how much you can buy it for elsewhere? That service is included in our product, Site Build it!. And it’s only a small part of what SBI! delivers, so it could be argued that SEO is worth some small fraction of $300 (or SBI! is worth one heck of a lot more than $299!).

Yes, there are exceptions.  Some SEOers put a heavy emphasis (i.e., not just lip service) on creating great content — super! Some "algorithm-chasers" are starting to "get it." And there are other exceptions (ex., huge, dynamically driven sites require special expertise).

But overall, more and more companies are learning how fundamental the "ante" is. The value of SEO itself has nowhere to go but down.

The real value is in showing businesses how to generate their own organic traffic by overdelivering high-value, original content. And by that, I don’t just mean for the 20-30 keywords that form the head of the long tail of a site’s keywords, but for the thousands, tens of thousands, of keywords that form the rest of the long tail.

That long tail usually amounts to 75-80% of a well-executed content site’s traffic. That kind of traffic builds a base of diversified, growing, and targeted traffic. There is no noisy gnashing of teeth when Google Dances or Yahoo! Burps. Why? Because they don’t depend on "the head." And, in any event, by keeping it real, they are unlikely to be affected by dances and burps.

But I digress. Back to Jason Calacanis and his dismissal of SEO….

"Hell hath no fury like an SEOer scorned." I learned that first-hand back in Feb, 2005. Almost 2 years ago, if you replace "bullshit" with "doomed," we released a book explaining where the engines were headed and why "SEO is doomed."

It was an internal release to Site Build It! owners ("SBIers"). SEOers who found it replied with the exact same arguments (and vehemence) that they are using today. SBIers merely went about their business and outperformed most "professional SEOers" along the way, the majority ending up in the Top 3% of all sites.

Read the book (right-click to download) and you see how well that book called the future. Its message is as valid today as it was then. And it is more valid than ever. As SEOers continue to argue and flame, blinders firmly affixed, the (web)world is passing them by.

What really takes you the "rest of the way"… to winning "the jackpots" and not merely having "the ante" to get into the game?

Valuable, original content! If you keep it real, like SBI! owners do, your results get better over time. Why? Because you are already where Google wants you to be.

Why?

Because your content pleases humans. And that is extremely important to the Search Engines. Google wants much more than "relevance" — it wants quality content, and it measures that by an ever-more-complex system of tracking human behavior before, during, and after a visit.

Put this question to yourself… "What if Google announced tomorrow that its Search Engine had perfected Artificial Intelligence? That it could determine the relevance and the quality of any page for any search, doing it as well as smart human beings who are knowledgeable in that particular field, and thereby return the perfect search results for any query?

"Am I ready for that?"

SEOers are not. But that’s where Google (et al) are headed. They won’t launch true AI for a long time of course, but they are simulating it better and better.

All the best,

P.S. I wrote the above after reading about Mr. Calacanis’s "bullshit" comment at SES Chicago and before he blogged on this topic. His thoughts are now well expressed on this post.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Massimo DAmico

    Ken, this post is very good!
    In my opinion, I think search engines are fundamental cause they drive quality visitors interested on our businesses. Simply, we need them. Our web sites need them.
    Thinking on SEO…
    If we give a close look at Google, we’ll notice it is very different than the Google of 1999. Same story about Yahoo! and Msn. They are better and better every single year, and the people and companies behind them want the same thing for their engines: web sites with great unique content.
    Do we need to learn SEO?
    At this moment, I’ll reply we need just a bit of SEO. If you create quality content, then you are on the way to do business.

  2. Andy Beard

    Jason Calacanis SEO Keynote

    Related tags:What is the best way to get every person interested in SEO talk about you?
    How about Jason Calacanis stating that Seo is bullshit in a keynote at an SEO conference with Danny Sullivan.
    The best way to listen to the keynote w…

  3. George

    Great post. I’m a big believer in content. But yesterday I read some comments that gave me pause – a tiny bit of doubt in what had been a 100% faith in content.
    There seems to be a set of (sometimes very successful) affiliate marketers out there who think that content building takes you down the road to lots of untargeted visitors…non-converting visitors. After all, most of us are here to make money, right? Well if content drives tons of traffic that doesn’t convert, what’s the point?
    Is there a happy medium? Can you create a series of sales pages, organized well and presented well, and have that work in the long run? Or, is that really what content building is?
    Distilled down: Sales letter vs. article – which one wins the traffic/conversion game in the long run?
    My money is still with real content (articles) for now, but this line of thinking does have me tweaking some pages…

  4. Paul

    Ken,
    Great article.
    Now if the search engines would practice what they preach.
    So far, it seems that content is not a great motivator for keyword ranking. Content might get you indexed, but to get to where the traffic is (on the front page) there are still many sites listed in the top positions with little or no content.
    Google seems to use the formular 76% back link quality and 25% content quality instead of the reverse.
    The SEO sharks have feed on this “fish food” for a long time.
    It’s true that search engines are starting to take a hard look at duplicate content and content for just the sake of content, but they are still a long way off for getting it right.
    As an SBI owner of 3 sites, I hope they come around to the “content rich” crowd a little quicker than they’ve shown. When they do, I’ll be waiting with my content rich sites that people disire when they type in their search term.
    Paul Ellis

  5. Darren Hartland

    Great post and just confirms what I’ve always believed.
    Maybe a little SEO is necessary — how often and where best to place your keywords, but any more than that is like studying the roots rather than eating the fruit.
    My own site has been up for nearly 2 years. Never done any more SEO than I mentioned above and I appear on the first page of results for all the keyword phrases I’m interested in.
    I don’t even have that many links into my site.
    But I’m obviously doing something right.
    Darren

  6. John Andrews

    I’m afraid you may be missing the forest for the trees yourself, Ken. It seems to be a common problem; people look at their traffic and rankings, and deduce that they don’t need SEO.
    Truth is, they are not competing.
    Some years ago a marathon was for marathoners. No one entered a marathon unless she was a serious marathoner. Nowadays a large portion of every marathon is comprised of runners trying to do a marathon. Many, many, many don’t finish. But they call themselves “marathoners”.
    Try and rank for a competitive search query using “good quality content”. It won’t happen, except if it is accompanied by perseverance (age), earned back links (many) and factors related to that good content. Are you going to wait 5 years for your quality content to earn its way to the top of a competitive SERP?
    Long tail ranking is not competitive, and you’re right: you don’t need much optimization to rank there. So what?

  7. Jeff Johnston

    I’m in a very specific niche — dog quotations — but I’m the alpha male in the pack for many of my pages. I’m up against one other dog quotations site, and several very large general quotations site.
    Mine is the only comprehensive quotations site that isn’t a database. All the comments exist on each of my pages. And although I have more quotations than the other dog site, I rank better because of the extra content I’ve added to my pages, and the minimal SEO, like putting the specific keyword in the title, description and headline.
    All of that in less than nine months. Well short of the five years that John Andrews mentions.
    Jeff Johnston

  8. Ivan

    Ken,
    You make some valid observations there and I for one feel glad that others share my opinion. I wrote something similar some ten months ago, when I tried to assert that SEO is overrated and that all content should be written and structured for humans and humans alone and anything else should be punished.
    Which is the direction I see Google going and that can only be a good thing.

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